They say it takes all kinds to make the world go round. This goes especially for the natural and organic industry, which is filled with diverse characters, each with a unique niche. Whether they’re wearing crazy hats, lab coats, hemp shoes or business suits, together, they form a community. Make that a varied, but passionate and strong community that works together to bring health and wellness to families throughout the nation and across the globe.

While we may not see eye to eye on every issue, perhaps the industry is so robust because of our diversity. Our unique talents and perspectives somehow mesh into a stronger unit; and nowhere is this more evident than at Natural Products Expo West.

Having just returned from Anaheim, fresh in my mind is the impact of one group that continues to inspire and rejuvenate the industry: that entrepreneur in a modest 10x10 booth who you might be tempted to skip over as you make your way to the booth with the flashing lights and spinning banners. I’ve learned a lot from the big players and love many of their products, but I always feel a little changed somehow after a good conversation with one of the little guys.

Like Minds
Let me share with you two experiences from my time in Anaheim. I stumbled upon a company off the main show floor at a simple booth that was clearly built with love. The co-founder had a wealth of knowledge; she was articulate and knowledgeable about her company’s nut-free soy butters. There was a spark in the young woman’s eye as she worked in facts about sugar content and new launches. Clearly, she was well prepared with the numbers, but the young woman shared far more with booth visitors than just that. She was speaking with an open heart about her dedication to making the brand she loved so much flourish. After the conversation, I learned Lily Pinto of Don’t Go Nuts was just 12 years old, and already a successful entrepreneur. I was floored.

The night before, I attended an event where the main speaker was an established and powerful industry player. Well-spoken and knowledgeable, her brand is sold in thousands of stores, and the company is constantly launching innovative products. While the firm’s reach is big, the founder reminded us of her first Expo West just a few short years ago. The new kid on the block, she was excited to come onto the scene with a 10x20 booth. She had to figure out how exactly to put all the components together herself, but she had the drive to succeed. Fast forward to 2013: Naomi Whittel’s Reserveage Organics “booth” was more “experience” than “display,” complete with a large tree at the center and wooden fixtures that showed off the company’s many carefully designed products. To see all that the company has accomplished in such a short time is truly impressive.

So, what I find so exciting is this very drive and passion from our industry’s newcomers, no matter how young they are. As they grow, it’s even more inspiring when they remain authentic and as committed to the industry as they were on day one. I know some of our favorite entrepreneurs may merge with a corporate giant one day, and this is sometimes the only path for a brand to survive and thrive. But, those who stay the course and remain successful as independents truly give us all a boost and the inspiration to make a difference in the world with clean, natural options. WF

Kaylynn Chiarello-Ebner
Editor/Associate Publisher

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2013